Panchakshara Gawai is one of the pioneers of Hindustani music in South India. In fact, it was Abdul Karim Khan, Sawal Gandharva, Neelkanthabuwa Mirajkar, and in no less degree, Panchakshara Gawai who laid the foundation of Hindustani music in the South.
Born blind on February 2nd 1892 at Kadashettihalli, Hangal Taluk, Dharwad District, Karnataka, Gadigeyya (original name of Panchakshara Gawai) overcame his disability in a remarkable way by mastering music. As a boy he used to sing bhajans,songs from folk plays and other songs melodiously. Not merely that, he could play on a number of folk percussion instruments expertly. As a result, he was the darling of the village crowds all around.
Very early in life he came under the aegis of Kumarswamiji of Hangal who spared no effort to see that Gadigeyya’s musical talent blossomed fully.Karnataki music held sway in North Karnataka also then and Hindustani music was unheard of. In 1900 Kumarswamiji brought to Hangal Bheemaraya of Harapanahalli, Bellary District, a well-known Karnataki vocalist and put Gadigeyya under him. Thus began the first lessons in music.Bheemaraya left Hangal after teaching for two years as the weather of Hangal didn’t suit him.Kumarswamiji started looking for another teacher and decided upon Emmiganur Gadigeyya,a primary teacher and reputed musicians at Shiralkoppa,Shimoga District. The teacher taught his student all he knew.
But Gadigeyya’s thirst for knowledge was not quenched.Kumarswamiji sent him to Mysore, a heartland of Karnataki music. Where he joined the school of violinist Venkataramana Iyer.And came up tops in just three or four months.Gadigeyya made the acquaintance of musical stalwarts in Mysore ad learnt many varnas and Kritis from them. He also gave concerts and earned appreciation.Veena Sheshanna, admiring Gadigeyya hadn’t obtained the permission of Kumarswamiji todo so without which he wouldn’t do a thing.
Becomes Panchakshara Gawai
The fourth plenary session of All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha was held at Bagalkot on December 28th, 29th, 30th 1908.Kumarswamiji wanted to provide exposure to his protégé. He sent word to Gadigeyya.Gadigeyya won the hearts of the audience with his scintillating recital. The title of Panchakshara was conferred on him on the occasion.
The breeze of Hindustani music was blowing over Karnataka. Gramophone records and Marathi Drama Troupes made it al the more popular. Having already mastered Karnataki music,Panchakshara Gawai yearned to learn Hindustani music also. He bought gramophone records and acquired the skill of singing along with them. Audience gave god medals in appreciation of his skill.
That was a time when Hindustani maestros thronged Hubli.Panchakshara Gawai could come down from Shivayogamandir in Bijapur District to listen to Abdul Karim Khan, Abdul Wahid Khan,Natthan Khan,Rahimat Khan,Vilayat Hussein Khan,Vishnu Digambara Paluskar,Bhaskarabuwa Bakhale,Ramkrishnabuwa Vaze,Alladiya Khan,Manjikhan,Keshavrao Bhosle,Balakrishnabuwa Ichalkaranjikar,Neelkanthabuwa Mirajkar and so on.Panchakshara Gawai dreamt of mastering the intricacies of Hindustani music from a guru.
A Dream Come True
No sooner did Panchakshara Gawai dream anything than Kumarswamiji translated it into action.He invited Abdul Khan, a Kirana stalwart, to Shivayogmandir on Rs.150/- a month, a princely sum in those good old days. Wahid Khan taught Panchakshara Gawai from 1917 to 1921.But insatiable was Panchakshara Gawai’s thirst. He continued to learn from Neelakanthabuwa Mirajkar,a Gwalior gharana exponent for about two years, on and off. He also learnt briefly from Ramakrishnabuwa Vaze and Inayat Hussian Khan.In 1933 he was invited to Bombay by HMV for recording. He was use of the opportunity to listen to great musicians there like Vinayakarao Patwardhan,Narayanarao Vyas,Master Deenanath,Omkarnath Thakur,Master Vasant,Manjikhan,Burji Khan,Moghubai kuradihkar and Kesarbai Kerkar.He knew Abdul Karim Khan and Sawai Gandharva closely.Thus were styles of many a gharana amalgamated in Panchakshara Gawai’s recitals, which were a blend of melody and variety. He was at home in Khyal,thumri,ghazal,tappa and dhrupad.
When the Balagandharwa troupe had camped at Hubli,Panchakshara Gawai would go to his dramas everyday. Sitting in the centre seat of the first row, he would wah-wah Balgandharva’s singing profusely. On learning who he was,Balagandharva invited him on to the stage on the last day of his camp and honored him with a silk shawl.Balagandharva learnt from Panchakshara Gawai some Karnataki Keertanas and Tyagaraja’s “Marugelora O Raghava” which he got translated into Marathi.
Panchakshara Gawai,besides singing, played on the tabla,harmonium,pakhavaj,violin,sarangi,dilruba,flute and taught them too. As great a teacher as a performer, his lessons would go from 4 to 7 morning and evening.Naturally,students were attracted to him as ants to sugar, most of them blind.
With the blessings and support of Kumarswamiji ,PANCHAKSHAR Gawai set up at Shivayogamandir a music school the first of its kind in this part of the country to impart formal training in music. With the number of students ever increasing he branched it off into a mobile school, touring from village to village. Apart from music ,Panchakshara Gawai arranged to teach Kannada and Sanskrit literature like the Sanskrit Panchakavya and the Kannada Shabarashankara Vilasa,Rajasekhara Vilasa,Jaimini Bharata.His Missionary zeal earned encomia from the likes of poet Bendre,scholar F.G.Halakatti and actor Garuda Sadashivaraya.
Numerous titles were conferred on Panchakshara Gawai : Ubhaya Gayana Visharada,Sangeet Ratna,Sangeet Samrat,Lalita Kala Pitamaha,Ganayogi,Bhoogandharvachandra,Ganakalanidhi,Sangeetasagara,Sangeeta Sudhanidhi,Gayanacharya,Ubhaya Gayanacharya.
Panchakshara Gawai was the first to set to classical music vachanas of shivasharanas like Basaveshwara,Allamaprabhu,Akkamahadevi et al.He trained his students in singing vachanas and gave the first performance in 1932 at Sholapur.The tradition has taken strong roots.Mallikarjun Mansur,Basavaraj Rajguru,Siddharam Jambaldinni,Panchakshari Mattigatti,Sangameshvar Gurav and a host of other singers are known for regaling audiences with a coupe of vachanas during their concerts.
To pay off loans incurred for running the music school ,Shri Kumareshwara Krupaposhita Nataka Sangha was started in 1940,which toured the length and breadth of North Karnataka staging many a religious,mythological,historical,and social plays.”Hemareddi Mallamma” saw a record 376 performances and raked in a lakh of rupees. Then Panchakshara gawai settled down at Gadag.During the terrible drought of 1942,there were 120-130 students in the music school and drama troupe put together. Prominent citizens of Gadag advised Panchakshara Gawai to send the students home until the drought situation improved. But he said ‘no’, countering their advice with.” Just because of drought does anyone turn his children away? I will take care of them even if it comes to selling the strings of my Tanpura”.
Impressed by Panchakshara Gawai’s love for students and saintly life,Basarigidad Veerappa,a transport fleet owner and benefactor of the hungry, took upon himself the responsibility of feeding the diciples.On the one acre of land gifted by him has come up Veereshwara Punyashrama on the outskirts of Gadag which is the hub of the legacy left behind by Panchakshara Gawai.
Disciples of Panchakshara Gawai are legion.Even the notable ones are so many. Dr.Puttaraj Gawai, Padnabhushan Dr.Basavaraj Rajguru, Panchakshari Mattigatti,Siddharam Jambaldinni,Arjunsa Nakod,Sheshadri Gawai(currently President of Karnataka state Sangeet Nritya Academy),Chittargi GangadharShastri,Mrityunjaya- Chandrasekhar Puranikmath trio, to mention a few. One would be entitled to eternal glory even if he had produced only one such disciple.
A doctor whose daughter was Panchakshar Gawai’sdisciple saw signs of pleurisy and urged him to take medicine.But he would take nothing but Ayurvedic medicine.By the time he could be persuaded to take allopathic injections it was too late.Now it needed surgery.Halakeri Annadana Swamiji prevailed upon him to agree to undergo surgery.Dr.Kallolagi arrived with all the preparations for surgery but on examining Panchakshara Gawai’s condition, said it was past praying for.
The attendants bathed Panchakshara Gawai and seated him for Shivapooja.It was 5 p.m.Next day morning also he performed pooja and had theerthaprasad. Soon after, his soul left the mortal coils and merged in the Eternal. The day was June 11,1944.People started flocking to have the last darshan.The body was kept for public darshan till 7 p.m. when the funeral procession was started and reached the eternal resting place at 3 a.m. A mammoth gathering of 70 thousand people had assembled.Halakeri Annadana Swamiji personally did the last rites.
Panchakshara Gawai’s punyathithi is celebrated every year through musical homage by his disciples and others. Not only at Gadag,but throughout Karnataka in several towns and villages. It is celebrated at far-off Madras and Bhopal too.
Boy Gadigeyya,by the grace of Kumar swamiji was like a piece of iron touched by the philosopher’s stone, became panchakshara Gawai.Observed strict celibacy, indulged himself in Shivayoga.On the advice of Kumarswamiji he taught children without discrimination of caste. Even in time of great distress, looked after his students. Countless have come out of the unique ashrama of Panchakshara Gawai as Vocalists,instrumentalists,Keertankars,Vaidyas and attained name and fame.
Panchakshara Gawai used to wear silk. He met Gandhiji when he came to Hubli.Dueto Gandhiji’s inspiration and influence of Dhanashetti Mallappa Sholapur he started wearing Khadi.He was patriotic and never touched the alien system of medicine.
Panchakshara Gawai was utterly selfless.He sold off the land he had inherited from the mutt at Kadashettihalli and donated it to Shivayogamandir.
He was born blind,but was naadachakshu.His life was a perfectly tuned Veena.He attained naadabrahma through naadayoga.Believing that naadaant was veedaanta,he progressed on the path of perfection.